Church of the Holy Sepulchre

In Jerusalem lies the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on Golgotha, place of skulls, where Jesus was crucified, buried and rose again.

 

Mural in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

To reach the church, you travel through the narrow sandstone alleys of Old City Jerusalem. The light of the plaza is blinding after the dim awning-covered alleys.

From the ground, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre presents one wall, with arched colonnades framing an imposing wooden door. Through the door is a small alcove, paved in black-and-white marble.  Brass lanterns of many sizes hang from the arches, each candle casting glittering splinters of light.

After the alcove, the first thing you see is a stone slab, raised about six inches off the floor. Brass lanterns with candles hang over it and people crowd around, kneeling, praying, and pressing clothing and crosses against the stone. This stone is where Jesus’ body, broken and bloody, was prepared for burial.

Of all the blood that has been spilled through history, the blood spilled on this rock signaled something more: life not death, the triumph of the spirit over the body, and the end of suffering.

Behind the first room there is a great domed room; the vaulted arches that support the dome, many rows of them, are spangled with brass stars and hung with more brass lanterns. A beam of light as beautiful as grace streams through the single hole in the center of the roof, illuminating the great reliquary. The line is long and jumbled; we wait to enter and pray by the plain stone sarcophagus.

Groups gather in corners to pray or sing. A woman in a holy daze passes, her hands shaking as she crosses herself, her eyes fixed on nothing you can see. Through it all thunder black-robed Orthodox priests, shouting, corralling, trying to corralling, trying to give order, but nobody listens; this place does not belong to them.

One room leads into another, up, across or down into the earth. The steps have been worn slick with the centuries. On one staircase, a series of black Templar’s crosses, as thick as graves in a cemetery, adorn the walls.

This path leads down and down, to a place underground where natural rock forms one wall. In the shelter created by the natural rock’s uneven tilt, a group is gathered, singing in deeply resonant and beautiful voices of the wonder of our Lord. “I stand amazed,” they sing. This place, some say, is the true site of his tomb of holiness, not the place with the vast reliquary.

I think this entire place, this church, this city, this land is riddled with sacredness, like air bubbles in glass. There’s always more to find.

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